Saxophone Colossus

The essay was not prompted question by a particular. It is the common application essay, required for all undergraduate applications.

I remember in kindergarten, during my troubled sleeps, my mother would come in and sing the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday”. I didn’t know what the lyrics meant then, but I do know that in her voice I found a universe of meaning. By first grade I was playing the alto saxophone. From there I went through all the woodwinds: clarinet, flute, bassoon, and the tenor sax. I was pretty skilled with all of them, but my teachers would complain that I didn’t have a specialty. That was okay with me as I liked to experiment. I used music to escape domestic turmoil as my parents were going through an ugly divorce. By eighth grade, I was living in both homes and enjoying the variety. When I went to my mom’s house, I ate Italian food, watched National Geographic, and played Monopoly. At dad’s, we watched 24, bet on soccer, and tried to remember all of his girlfriends’ names. It was the best of both worlds. She lived in the suburban apotheosis, Westfield; he, DUMBO. But this world of balance and multiplicity started falling apart when I entered high school.

The first day of high school marching band practice was ridiculously hot. Adding to my misery was the sheer volume of participants. I was scared to death, wondering if I had the temperament and the talent. Miles Davis said, “Do not fear mistakes, there are none” in music. At this moment I was sure he was wrong. I zigged when everyone else zagged; my alto sax was so hot it sounded as if I was choking a goose. Furthering the confusion, the director was unhappy that I had brought four instruments. He either thought I was insane or the biggest geek there, which is saying something at a high school marching band tryout. I had brought an alto, clarinet, and flute and hiding under the bleachers was my mellophone. Tired of his glaring at me, I put aside everything but the alto. I did not make the high school jazz band freshman year. Instead I would sit outside of the jazz ensemble rehearsal hall and listen to the tenors practice scales, licks and tone. I was determined to not only make the jazz band, but continue to nurture my passionate dedication towards the music that has taught me conflict and compromise. Each musical note, phrase, and idea was created through me with the intention of pure emotional release.

My next two years in marching band, jazz ensemble, and wind ensemble were dedicated to gaining competence in my collaborations. I used my alto sax to seek connection, but I always felt something was missing. The other tenors spoke in codes of which I was jealous. I became more fluid in reading and transcribing music. But inside I was unhappy, and I started to rebel. Whether they wanted me to or not, I was going to become a tenor saxophonist. And so I did.

It is cold in the music room, located at the bottommost level of my house. The wind from the vents press against the frame. The locks tense. As the door sways inward, a soft but present screech pierces the narrow hallway. I enter. My feet grow numb as a rush of cold air saturates my body. My eyes scan the room for a black case of rusted silver and jimmied lock. Inside lays a Conn 10M 1935 Tenor Saxophone. A small velvet tin is picked from the case. The latch moves with ease as I begin the hunt for the “good” reed. Despite the uncomfortable temperature, this is where I belong and where I find meaning.

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